Feb 7, 2024 - Politics

Hillsborough kills affordable housing program

Illustration of the dotted outline of a house key, but no house key.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The Hillsborough County Commission's Republican majority scrapped a program that for three decades made building affordable houses cheaper.

Why it matters: Residents face a housing crisis, with rents skyrocketing and wages lagging, but their commissioners keep axing county spending to tackle the issue.

  • Experts at Wednesday's meeting pleaded with the commissioners not to end the longstanding program. They warned that doing so would result in fewer homes for those in need.

Catch up fast: Republican Commissioner Michael Owen pitched ending the Affordable Housing Relief Program in December, saying it gave developers a "break" while dismissing the notion that doing away with it hurts residents.

  • The program sought to encourage affordable housing development by reducing the financial burden on developers.

Between the lines: Hillsborough County levies impact fees on developers to offset the costs of public services needed to accommodate new residents.

  • Under the program, the county paid these charges for developers who built homes for families earning $56,000 or less a year.
  • The county spent "nowhere near" what it allocated in the budget for the program in the past five years, Democratic Commissioner Pat Kemp said at Wednesday's meeting.

The big picture: One-third of Hillsborough County's residents pay over 30% of their monthly income on housing — making them among the most financially squeezed in the state, per the Florida Housing Coalition.

  • Habitat for Humanity of Hillsborough County has, since 2017, built five homes and eight townhomes for low-income residents using the affordable housing program.
  • The program also helped Casa Bel Mar, an affordable housing complex in South Tampa.

What they're saying: The program is for people private developers are not "racing to serve," said Elizabeth Strom, an urban planning professor at the University of South Florida. "These are people the market left behind."

  • "I'm a fan of impact fees and paying one's fair share," Dayna Lazarus of the Florida Housing Coalition said. "But affordable housing developers ... are not who you should look to pay [the fees] in the middle of a housing shortage."

The other side: "Every tax dollar is precious," Owen said. "I hear everybody saying that we need more affordable housing; I don't think paying the developers' impact fees through taxpayer dollars is the way to go about it."

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